Arbor committee plans big Arbor Day
The Fairfield Arbor Committee met at the Fairfield Public Library Thursday to discuss strategies for responding to the emerald ash borer that is threatening ash trees in town.
Once the emerald ash borer infects a tree, the tree becomes very brittle in about eight years and its branches will break easily, creating a safety hazard. This has prompted the city to look into removing the ash trees in town before they become a danger to the public.
The arbor committee has already made plans to plant new trees in preparation for the ash trees’ disappearance. Committee member Scott Timm said the committee is planning to plant 70 trees – 14 different species – in Central Park and O.B. Nelson Park on Arbor Day, April 25. The trees will be paid for from grants received from organizations such as Trees Forever, which just awarded the committee a grant of $10,000, and the Fairfield RAGBRAI Committee.
About half the trees in Central Park are ash, and Timm said about 75 of those in O.B. Nelson are, too. He said it will probably take a few days to plant all the trees, but the big push will be on Arbor Day.
“Twelve ash trees are in Central Park, and some of those are very large,” Timm said. “When they have to come down for safety’s sake, it’s going to be a pretty shocking visual effect.”
Timm said he would like to plant large trees in Central Park to provide a nice canopy. He said the new trees could be 10 to 15 feet tall when they’re placed in the park. He said the committee is planning to plant a variety of trees to prevent the very thing that is happening now, which is an insect decimating a large number of trees because they are the same species. He said the irony is that the ash trees now threatened by the emerald ash borer were planted in response to a disease that was killing oak trees.
The arbor committee is doing everything it can to educate the public about EAB. It has invited a forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Tivon Feeley, to speak to the public about EAB Thursday at the library. He will speak from noon to 1 p.m. and again from 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Feeley will talk about how to tell if an ash tree is infected with EAB. He will talk about ways of treating the problem, which might involve cutting the tree down and planting another one, so he will also talk about re-planting options. He will answer any questions the public has for him.
Feeley said he first learned about EAB years ago before it arrived in Iowa. The emerald ash borer was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in Detroit. The emerald ash borer was first seen in Iowa in 2010 on an island in Allamakee County, in the northeast corner of the state.
The emerald ash borer spread to several other counties in northeast Iowa and to other parts of the state. In 2013, EAB was found in Jefferson, Cedar, Union and Des Moines counties.
Feeley said the DNR is working with numerous towns infected with EAB. The department received a federal grant from the United States Forest Service to conduct public tree inventories. Through the inventories, the DNR located the threatened ash trees and came up with ways to manage the problem.
“I do not know that there is one management option that works,” he said. “Doing anything to prepare and help alleviate the cost helps.”
He said the most important thing for people in Fairfield or any town afflicted with the EAB is that exterminating it is not an option.
“It is here to stay,” he said. “It is a pest that we will learn to live with.”
The Fairfield City Council has asked residents not to use insecticide to treat EAB because of the harm it does to other wildlife and because of the potentially dangerous environmental impacts. Feeley said his presentation will focus on educating the public about the choices available to address the problem, but ultimately he will leave it up to the community to decide which is the best one.
Cities can alleviate problems caused by pests such as EAB and diseases by planting a wide variety of tree species because pests and diseases tend to focus on a single species. Feeley said keeping trees healthy is another way to control pests because a sick tree is more at risk of infection than a healthy tree.
At Thursday’s arbor committee meeting, Timm said he would like to inspect the ash trees in Central Park to see how many are infected with EAB. Committee member Darrel Bisgard said he could take Timm in the truck when he takes down the Christmas lights around the square.
Timm said the emerald ash borer leaves behind a distinct mark in the tree but it does so high on the tree, which is why Timm would need to be in a cherry picker or some other device that could lift him high in the air. He said the mark the EAB leave is the shape of a capital letter “D.”
Committee member and city councilor Michael Halley said the city might get some pushback from residents if it cuts down trees in the right-of-way. The right-of-way, and the trees that grow on it, belong to the city. However, Halley said many people feel as though trees in the right-of-way are their property, and they might not like having to cut them down. He suggested the city should only take out a few trees from the right-of-way in 2014.